Past Events

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2014-2015: Ruin

The theme for the Modernities Working Group in 2014-2015 was Ruin.  “Ruin” describes a historical process as well as its material results. In what forms do the catastrophes of the modern –slavery, war, environmental degradation– survive in the present?  How has past disaster been imagined, preserved, and contested?  What is the future of ruin?

Tuesday, September 23rd //  Reading Group Meeting

“Ruins of Modernity”

12:30 pm / Lannan Center for Poetics and Social Practice / New North 408

For this initial meeting of the term we will discuss the following short texts and excerpts.  Participants in the discussion are encouraged but not required to have completed the reading.

  • Maurice Blanchot, from The Writing of the Disaster. [pdf forthcoming.]
  • Lauren Berlant, “Slow Death (Obesity, Sovereignty, Lateral Agency),” from Cruel Optimism.  [PDF forthcoming.]
  • Mike Davis, “Slum Ecology,” from Planet of Slums.  [PDF forthcoming.]
  • Rem Koolhaas, “Junkspace.”  [PDF here.]


Thursday, October 23rd //  Guest: Werner Sollors, Harvard University, English and African & African American Studies

“After Dachau: Life in Ruins”

5:00 pm / New South Screening Room

Werner Sollors is Henry B. and Anne M. Cabot Professor of English Literature and Professor of African and African American Studies at Harvard University. His most recent book is The Temptation of Despair: Tales of the 1940s (2014). In 2012 he prepared an expanded centennial edition of Mary Antin’s The Promised Land and a Norton Critical Edition of Charles W. Chesnutt’s The Marrow of Tradition. With Julia Faisst and Alan Rosen he coedited David Boder’s collection of interviews from 1946, Die Toten habe ich nicht befragt (2011). Coeditor with Greil Marcus of A New Literary History of America (2009), and with Glenda R. Carpio of African American Literary Studies: New Texts, New Approaches, New Challenges (2011), his major publications include Beyond Ethnicity: Consent and Descent in American Literature and Culture (1986), Neither Black nor White yet Both: Thematic Explorations of Interracial Literature (1997), and Ethnic Modernism  (2008). He has written essays on ethnicity, pluralism, migration, multiculturalism, and numerous individual authors, among them Olaudah Equiano, Mark Twain, W. E. B. Du Bois, Charles Chesnutt, Mary Antin, Jean Toomer, Zora Neale Hurston, Henry Roth, Richard Wright, Ed Bullins, Adrienne Kennedy, Amiri Baraka, and Charles Johnson. Among his edited books are The Invention of Ethnicity (1989), The Return of Thematic Criticism (1993), Theories of Ethnicity (1996), The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano (2000), Interracialism (2000), The Multilingual Anthology of American Literature (2000, with Marc Shell), Charles W. Chesnutt’s Novels, Stories, and Essays (2002), An Anthology of Interracial Literature (2004), Frank. J. Webb, Fiction, Essays & Poetry (2005), and Alexandre Dumas’s Georges (2007). His John Harvard Library edition of Mark Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson is forthcoming. Recently he contributed to DaedalusThe Chronicle of Higher Education, Amerikastudien, Comparative American StudiesThe Journal of Ethnic and Racial Studies, and the volumes The Harvard Sampler and The Turn Around Religion. He is the recipient of Fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship and from the National Endowment for the Humanities. He was awarded the Constance Rourke award for the best essay in American Quarterly and the Everett Mendelsohn Excellence in Mentoring Award at Harvard UniversityA corresponding member of the Austrian Academy of Sciences and of the Bayerische Amerika-Akademie, he was elected Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2001 and of the Academia Europaea in 2012.

Thursday, November 20th //  Guest: Mike Osborne, Georgetown University, Department of Art & Art History

“Photography, Landscape, History”

12:30 pm / Lannan Center for Poetics and Social Practice / New North 408

Combining a documentary style with sometimes cinematic qualities, Mike Osborne’s photographs address the reality and fantasy of specific, sometimes charged places. Exploring subjects such as architecture, public space, landscape, and technology, his work reflects his interest in the perpetual flux of the contemporary world, which can be observed in projects such as Enter the Dragon (2006-2008) in Beijing, Shanghai, and Taipei; Underground (2009-10) in Stuttgart, Germany; and Floating Island (2012) in the Great Basin Desert town of Wendover, Utah. His photograph appears on the Modernities Group poster and website this term.






Image: Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre, “Room 1504, Lee Plaza Hotel.”  In The Ruins of Detroit.


2013-2014: Archives

The theme of the Modernities Working Group in 2013-2014 was Archives. Archives can be contemporary or historical, secret or public, official or insurgent, analog or digital.  What defines an archive?  By what material and conceptual means is an archive bounded, and what is the status of materials that fall beyond those boundaries? What relationships does an archive imply between past and present, social power and its opposite —  and what is our own relationship, as individual critics, scholars, and historians, to the  primary materials with which we engage?


mwg spring 2014

Please contact Brian Hochman ( or Nathan Hensley ( to be added to the distribution list.  All are welcome!


Wednesday, September 18

“What is an Archive?” / Reading Group Meeting

12:30 pm / Lannan Center for Poetics and Social Practice / New North 408

Walter Benjamin, “The Collector [Convolute H],” from The Arcades Project: benjamin_the collector

Jorge Luis Borges, “The Library of Babel”: borges_the library of babel

Thomas Osborne, “The Ordinariness of the Archive”: osborne_ordinariness of the archive


Wednesday, October 16 //  Guest: Mark Mazzetti, New York Times

“Declassified: On Secrecy and Openness in Reporting”

12:30 pm / Lannan Center for Poetics and Social Practice / New North 408

Mark Mazzetti is a Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign correspondent for the New York Timesand author of The Way of the Knife: The CIA, A Secret Army, and A War at the Ends of the Earth.  This meeting will take the form of a Q&A and open discussion on the topic of  secret archives, sources, and journalistic transparency.  Short readings will be posted to the blog in advance; for a copy of Mazzetti’s book please email


Wednesday, November 13 // Guest: Joshua Shannon, U. Maryland, College Park

“Art and Fact, 1968 and After”

Lannan Center for Poetics and Social Practice / New North 408

Joshua Shannon is Associate Professor of Art History at the University of Maryland, College Park and founder and director of the Potomac Center for the Study of Modernity.  This meeting will take the form of a work-in-progress workshop on a chapter of Professor Shannon’s current book manuscript, The Recording Machine: Art and Fact, 1968 (under contract, Yale University Press), which asks “why so many artists in the Cold-War West around 1968 seemed to reject art’s traditional aims of essentialist truth-telling in favor of mere presentation of unsynthesized information.”  Shannon’s first book, The Disappearance of Objects: New York Art and the Rise of the Postmodern City (Yale, 2009), was a finalist for the book prize of the Phillips Collection’s Center for the Study of Modern Art and won a General Research Board Award from the University of Maryland and a Wyeth Foundation Publication Grant from the College Art Association.  The relevant chapter draft from The Recording Machine will be emailed to group members in advance of the meeting.


Wednesday, January 29 // Guest: Joanne Rappaport, Georgetown University

“The Meaning of the Mestizaje”

12:30 pm / Lannan Center for Poetics and Social Practice / New North 408

Joanne Rappaport is an anthropologist with a joint appointment in the Department of  Anthropology and the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at Georgetown University.  She is the author of several books in English and Spanish, including Cumbe Reborn: An Andean Ethnography of History (University of Chicago Press, 1994), Intercultural Utopias: Public Intellectuals, Cultural Experimentation, and Ethnic Pluralism in Colombia (Duke University Press, 2005), and The Politics of Memory: Native Historical Interpretation in the Colombian Andes (Cambridge University Press, 1990; Duke University Press, 1998).  Her most recent book, Beyond the Lettered City: Indigenous Literacies in the Andes (Duke University Press, 2012; co-authored with Tom Cummins) won the 2012 Bryce Wood Award of the Latin American Studies Association for outstanding book on Latin America in the social sciences and humanities published in English in the United States and 2012 Katherine Singer Kovacs Prize of the Modern Languages Association for outstanding book published in English or Spanish in the field of Latin American and Spanish literatures and cultures.  She is currently completing a book on racial mixing in 16th-17th century Bogota, The Disappearing Mestizo, which will appear in print in the spring of 2014.


Thursday, February 27 //  Guest: Matthew Kirschenbaum, University of Maryland

“Track Changes: The Literary History of Word Processing”

4:30 pm / Lannan Center for Poetics and Social Practice / New North 408

Matthew G. Kirschenbaum is Associate Professor of English at the University of Maryland, College Park and  Associate Director of the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities.  His first book, Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination (MIT Press, 2008), won multiple awards, including the 16th annual Prize for a First Book from the Modern Language Association.  His current book project is entitled Track Changes: A Literary History of Word Processing (Harvard University Press, forthcoming).


Friday, April 11 // Guest: Lisa Gitelman, NYU

“Paper Knowledge”

12:30 PM / Lannan Center for Poetics and Social Practice / New North 408

Lisa Gitelman is Professor of English and Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University.  She is the author of several books, including Scripts, Grooves, and Writing Machines: Representing Technology in the Age of Edison (Stanford University Press, 2000), New Media, 1740-1915 (MIT Press, 2004; co-edited with Geoffrey B. Pingree), Always Already New: Media, History, and the Data of Culture (MIT Press, 2006), and “Raw Data” Is an Oxymoron (MIT Press, 2013).  As a guest of the Modernities Working Group, she will discuss a pre-circulated chapter from her new book, Paper Knowledge: Toward a Media History of Documents (Duke University Press, 2014).


Screen Shot 2013-07-31 at 11.30.34 PM

Image: Jan Banning, “India, Bureaucracy.”  Bihar, 2003 – 17/2003, Sushma Prasad, b. 1962.  From the series Bureaucratics.  Please see:  Via @mitchfraas and @jaremes

Spring 2013: Humanities Now 

Three meetings over the spring term, 2013, addressed from multiple angles the question of what engaged humanistic inquiry might look like today.  Under conditions of permanent austerity, and as universities continue to be reorganized according to the dictates and logics of the market, does critique have a future?  Unless otherwise noted, events were scheduled at 5 pm and took place in The Lannan Center @ Georgetown University.


//Wednesday, February 13, 2013//

Brett Bobley Chief Information Officer and Director of the Office of Digital Humanities, National Endowment for the Humanities.

“The Future Digital?  A Conversation with the Director of Digital Humanities @ NEH” 

Murray Room, 5th Floor Lauinger Library

//Wednesday, February 27, 2013, 5 pm//

John McGowan (Georgetown ’74), Ruel W. Tyson, Jr. Distinguished Professor of the Humanities and Director, Institute for the Arts and Humanities, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

“Liberal Democracy as Secular Comedy”

The Lannan Center, 408 New North

//Tuesday, April 2, 2013//

 Trevor Paglen, photographer and conceptual artist.

“Machine Seeing and Ruins of the Future: A Conversation.”

The Lannan Center, 408 New North

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